This afternoon, I popped into the Video Room — I was passing by — and rented a recent picture that I haven’t seen, Four Christmases. Kathleen and I watched it after dinner, and liked it very much; I expect that I’ll buy the DVD. Vince Vaughn’s ability to talk himself into and out of sticky situtations simultaneously can’t be beat. As for his co-star, we couldn’t put our finger on what Reese Witherspoon was doing, exactly, but it was different, and it seemed very smart. The two actors were as superior to the material as their characters were to their families.
“Family” has always been a touchy subject for me. My latest theory is that I didn’t have one. I had something else — whether or not it was good or bad makes no difference, because it wasn’t family. I can’t attribute this alternative structure to adoption. I’ve never known an adopted person who was wholly at home in his or her new family, but because I read about such people rather often, I’ve decided to reserve judgment. So I’ll pin it on a notion of “adoption plus.” There was something else going on — or, more likely, not going on.
It suddenly occurs to me that “family” is a word that I never heard my father utter — not, I mean, in the adhesive sense. I have just begin thinking, actually, of my father’s silences, his discretions, the things that it didn’t occur to him to say. For a nice guy, he was remarkably honest. It has also occurred to me lately that he was not really keen on the family/parenting thing. Left to his own devices, he’d have been happy without nephews and nieces, much less a son and a daughter. He was famous for having nothing to say to kiddies.
We let each other down, my father and I. He moved us to Houston, in 1968. I never forgave that. I still haven’t. What a terrible thing to do to me — Houston! Conscientiously thoughtless it was it was. I paid him back, in 1980, by refusing to return to Houston after law school. That had been his idea of the deal, not only paying the tuition but getting me into the one non-Southwestern school that I was allowed to apply to. I hadn’t agreed to this deal, but I’d known that it was what he wanted. And yet I was hardly some captive child. I was nearly thirty, and yet every bit as incapable of taking care of myself as he feared I was. But I took good enough care of myself to make sure that I never went back to Texas.
Texas, once the largest state (territorially) in the Union, is a manifold place. I like to point out that it retains the power unilaterally — without permission from Washington — to subdivide into a total of six states. That Texans have failed to avail themselves of this magical multiplication of senators does not make them more impressive to me, I assure you. When I say “Texas,” I’m well aware of the differences between the three great cities, and between each of them and the vast hinterlands in which they’re embedded. Nonetheless, when I say that I wish that Texas did not exist, I’m talking about all of those complexities. The place is not devoid of interest. But it is devoid, for me, of whatever a territory might have to inspire a patriotic response. What I learned in Texas was that I disliked it, deeply.
My feelings about upstate New York (what I call “New York State“) are not much warmer, by the way, than my feelings about Texas. I’m sure that, if I had ever been obliged to live in Syracuse or Rochester, I would have hated it even more than Houston. I didn’t much like the town I grew up in, for the matter of that; but it had the advantage of a train station famously sixteen miles north of Times Square.
As for my feelings about my family, they consist primarily of doubting that I am capable of love at all. Loving anybody, that is. I could not love them. The notion of “family” just reminds me of my resentment, felt for so long (but no longer) that nobody asked me to choose these adopters.